Friday 26 February 2010

La comida casera

No cooking classes at Gato Dumas this week. Instead, we have two evenings at the home of a cocinera named Merecedes, who is showing us some Argentinian home cooking. She is a warm and friendly lady, who you can't help but love.

Mercedes and her daughter Viki

Last night we made pastel de papas. Pastel de papas is, it would seem, Spanish for Cottage Pie. The only difference being that there is a layer of mashed papas on the top and the bottom. Otherwise it is the same, with the addition of a few extra toppings beneath the last layer of potato, namely huevos, raisins and olives. The piping bag stays in the drawer.

Assembling the alfajores

I hadn’t heard of alfajores before yesterday, but Hannah seemed pretty excited about them. Made all over Latin America, everyone has their own interpretation, but all are sweet biscuits made with cornflour(!). Once baked, we sandwich dulce de leche between them and roll the outsides in desiccated coconut. Dulce de leche, in case you don’t know, is caramelised sweet milk. Caramelised until it forms a thick, unbelievably sweet, gooey paste, that Argentinos devour with gusto. It is impossible not to like them, and easy to overindulge.

On Tuesday, we made puchero, a stew named after the pot it is cooked in. There's nothing particularly complicated about it - you slowly cook braising beef in water with vegetables. We use spuds (patatas, or papas), sweet potatoes (batatas), squash (zapallos), carrots (zanahorias) and onions (cebollas). Towards the end we add cabbage (repollo) and sweetcorn (chocla). In a separate pot we cook sausage and black pudding (morcilla), as they are too fatty to go in the main puchero.

For dessert we made pasta flora, a sweet pastry tart. Hannah and I sit at the table and make the masa, or pastry, which we roll and flatten with our hands and push into the tin. Sweet quince paste (membrillo) goes on next, and s topped with a lattice. It is hardly a work of art, hand rolled, uneven and lumpy as it is. My mind wandered back to the coeliac lecture at Ballymaloe and the painful lattice demonstration that took about an hour and had me reaching for my revolver. I guess that wasn't real home cooking. You certainly couldn't sell what we made on Tuesday, but you can definitely eat it. And we did.

I can’t say I learnt anything new about cooking this week, but as an insight into home food and family life it was a wonderful experience. I did nothing but (attempt to) speak Spanish all the time, and had no choice but to listen. It was a privilege to sit and eat round the table with Mercedes and her family. Rocket science it might not have been but the food was, irregardless, as some might say, Simply Delicious.

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